Friday, February 29, 2008

Mike Padilla for Mayor

I had to smile when I saw the headline of the AP article yesterday, "Nader chooses Matt Gonzalez as his running mate." The article goes on to say:
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader selected Matt Gonzalez, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to be his running mate.

Nader, who launched his fourth White House bid last weekend, made the announcement Thursday at a news conference. The Texas-born Gonzalez ran for mayor of San Francisco as a Green Party candidate in 2003 but lost to Democrat Gavin Newsom after a surprisingly close runoff election. Gonzalez, a lawyer, has been largely inactive in city politics since then.

In my most recent novel, Runoff, I have a character--Mike Padilla--campaigning for mayor in a San Francisco runoff election who is described thusly :
Up on the dais a guy in overalls was making an impassioned plea about halting gentrification of the Mission District. Padilla was seated at a table beside him. He wore a rumpled suit and had a frizzy Prince Valiant haircut, which apparently was his way of distinguishing himself from the polished, GQ look of Hunter Lowdon.
Of course, my Green Party candidate for mayor is based on my friend Mike Padilla, who was a member of my first writers group.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dean of Jazz

Here's an excerpt from my novel Candy from Strangers, published in 2006:
The old black man reclining on the leather Barcalounger in the middle of the room grinned hugely. His left pant leg was empty from the knee down and a shiny plastic prosthesis—dressed in a black wingtip of its own—was resting against the chair. “What are you babbling about now, boy?” he asked. “Did you bring my medal?”

I held up the gold, plaque-mounted medal that I had brought from downtown. The inscription said the medal came from the president’s office of San Francisco State University and was awarded to “Victor Lane, ‘Dean of Jazz,’ for his long-lasting, widespread contributions to SFSU and the city of San Francisco.” Since Victor had been too ill to attend the award ceremony he had asked me to go in his place and give his acceptance speech.

I passed the plaque over to him and he beamed down at it. “Ain’t that fine.”

“I don’t know where we’re going to put it,” said Hilma, who had settled herself on the plaid sofa. “There isn’t a square inch of wall that isn’t covered with a picture or a medal or playbill or some damn thing.”

I knew without checking that she was right. Victor had been a fixture in San Francisco’s jazz scene since the 1930s and had played bass with Basie, Ellington and Gillespie among many others. He had autographed pictures from all of them, and as I glanced across to the fireplace mantel, I could see a photo of Billie Holiday adorned with a still bright-red lipstick kiss. Holiday had written, “Lover man, oh, where can you be?” beside it.

“We’ll find a place for it,” said Victor, and looked up to eye me skeptically. “I suppose you ruined my speech.”

“How could I ruin it? I told them they could all kiss your ass—just like you said.”

Victor laughed and leaned down to pick up his artificial leg. He waggled the foot in my direction. “Not my ass,” he said. “My big toe.”

“Guess I didn’t bring the right props.”

Hilma stood up with a grunt and snatched the leg out of his hands. “It’s bad enough you won’t wear the damn thing, Victor, but I will not have you roughhousing with it in the living room.” She returned it to its place beside Victor’s chair. “You know he ruined Thanksgiving at our daughter’s house. Used the damn leg to bat dinner rolls across the table.”

Victor winked at me. He had a been a big man once—over six feet and nearly 200 pounds—but time and a medical almanac of diseases had shrunk him to the point where a wink made him look like a naughty elf. “Lucky I didn’t end up with a broken-bat single,” he said, “the way Martha cooks.”
In the book, Vic Lane is a friend of my PI protagonist August Riordan and Hilma is Lane's wife.

In real life, Lane had a counterpart named Vernon Alley, who was the real San Francisco Dean of Jazz. You can read about him in this San Francisco Chronicle article by Joel Selvin, which is part of a series the paper is doing for Black History Month.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Life of Photographs

When my publisher--Bleak House Books--lets me I like to include scene-setting black and white photographs in my novels.

I also place all those photos on Flickr so that I can link to them from my website. Flickr uses a Creative Commons licensing scheme, and I've generally set the licenses for those photos to Attribution 2.0 Generic, which means that people are free to reuse a photo as long as they give me some sort of credit.

Now, it must be said that none of these photos qualifies as high art. They are typically pictures of San Francisco buildings that most anyone with a little time and a point and shoot could capture. However, a few are unique or harder to get, and as I've discovered, tend to get reused in various places around the Internet.

Take this photograph from The Immortal Game of my private eye August Riordan handcuffed to one of the monstrous "Voice of the Theater" speakers in his living room.

That has ended up featured in a "Snow Day Surprise" sex fantasy on a the edenfantasys sex toys site. It also makes an appearance in this blog post that appears to be in Hebrew.

Next is a photo of a gun range from The Immortal Game, where one of the characters in the book commits suicide.

Ironically, that appears in a WikiHow article on How to Shoot a Handgun.

Then there's this photo of a used car lot that Riordan visits in The Immortal Game.

That ended up in blog post titled "Don't get sucked in by a luxurious showroom!" which warns about the dangers of buying cars from dealers who have ritzy facilities.

Moving on to photos that originally appeared in my second novel, Vulture Capital, we've got the cover photo for the first edition.

It's the northbound Highway 280 Sand Hill Road exit sign. It's emblematic because Sand Hill Road is the place where most of the Northern California venture capitalists are located. But in a blog post titled "Do You Have To Go To Mecca" a New York-based VC makes the case that east coast VCs are just as cool. The photo suits the post, but since Vulture Capital does for VCs what The Firm did for lawyers, it might not have been the best choice.

Vulture Capital is chock full of artifacts from the dot-com bubble, and this photo of a truck from the failed start-up Web Van is perhaps one of the most representative of the era.


It is used--appropriately--in a post titled "Fixed Costs: The Enemy of Success" wherein the author warns about dangers of starting online companies that require high infrastructure investments.

Finally, here is a photo of an emergency room that Riordan visits in my most recent novel, Runoff.

ER room photos must be hard to come by because this one has cropped up all over the place: on a blog that accompanies a book about health care reform, on a blog about marriage discussing the line about "sickness and health" in many wedding vows and on a blog talking about what it's actually like to work an an one of the places.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fun-March Ends In Death

That's the headline of an article in an issue of the Silver City Independent from Silver City, New Mexico dated Tuesday, February 14, 1911.

The lead paragraph gives the short version of the story:
Murdoch R. Ballou, one of the best-known cattlemen of Grant County was shot and instantly killed Thursday evening by Sheriff Herbert McGrath. The killing was the result of an effort on the part of the officer to disarm Mr. Ballou, was done in self defense and was absolutely justifiable.
Mr. Ballou had apparently been drinking and was having some "sport" with a couple of victims who he had chained together and forced to march down the main drag. When a night watchman tried to interfere with the party, Ballou went into his room at the Palace Hotel and armed himself. Eventually Sheriff McGrath--a friend of Ballou's--was notified and McGrath went out to confront him. The article continues:
During the early part of the conversation Mr. Ballou took a pocket knife from his pocket, which held in his left hand. The knife, however, was unopened. Seeing this the sheriff caught his left hand and held it, still trying to persuade him to surrender his gun. A few moments later Mr. Ballou drew his gun with his right hand, saying: "Get it if you can." The Sheriff saw the move and waited until the gun was in plain sight and was being raised, then loosing his hold of Ballou's left hand he jumped back a few steps, drew his own gun and fired three shots in quick succession. Before Mr. Ballou drew his gun, however, he had become very angry. Mr. Ballou staggered back toward the side of the building and sank to the ground. The Sheriff rushed to a nearby telephone and summoned medical aid.
Mr. Ballou was known as "MR" to his friends and family, and among the surviving members of that family was his brother, Steve. When Steve had his first child--a boy--he named him Murdoch R. Ballou in honor of his late brother.

Unfortunately, "MR" as he was also called, died at the age of 16 when he was asphyxiated by a malfunctioning gas heater. Although the Ballous had a younger daughter and were in their early 40s at the time of MR's death, they decided to have another child--perhaps in hopes of having another boy. They had another daughter, who they named Zoe Ann.

When anyone asks about the gold watch engraved with the initials MRB that I have on the mantle of my fireplace:


Or exactly who this "M.R. Ballou" guy that my first book, The Immortal Game, is dedicated to:


I tell them the story. I figure if the two MRs hadn't died, my mother Zoe Ann Coggins nee Ballou probably wouldn't have been born--and neither would I.